A Pastor’s Commentary
Studies in Acts
Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 characterizes the Apostle Paul in many ways
(1) “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven
(2) A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted
(3) A time to kill and a time to heal;
(4) A time to weep and a time to laugh
(5) A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones
(6) A time to search and a time to give up as lost
(7) A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak
And Acts chapter 24 contains both of those times. By way of background, remember that in chapter 22 Paul had attempted to appease the legalistic Jews by appearing in the temple with two Jewish men who were taking a vow. This effort failed, however, because the unsaved Jews started a riot and got him arrested. So in chapter 23 we saw him on trial in Jerusalem – but during a recess in the trial a plot to assassinate was discovered and so he was moved to the provincial capitol at Caesarea – and that’s where chapter 24 begins.
The accusation against Paul is found in verses 1 through 9. And the first thing we find is the appearance of the accusers in verse 1:
Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator named Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.
It would have been no small thing for an old man like Ananias to travel the seventy miles between Jerusalem and Caesarea. And he had gone to the trouble to engage an “attorney” Actually the Greek word would be better translated “orator.” In those days there were brilliant speakers who would be engaged in a trial, not to handle the legal matters, but to present the case as possible. It is interesting to notice that God’s chief representative, the high priest left God out of his plans!
After their arrival, we find the argument of the accusers in verses 2 through 4:
And when he was called upon, Turtullus began his accusation, saying: “seeing that through you we enjoy great peace and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix with all thankfulness (4) Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.
Of course, none of that was true, – Felix had ruled by means of corruption and violence, and the Jews hated him. But Turtullus is “buttering him up” to believe even the accusations he is about to level against Paul.
The accent of the accusation is in verses 5 through 9
For we have found this man a plague, a creator dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes (6) he even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him and wanted to judge him according to our law. (7) But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands (8) commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him.” (9)”And the Jews also assented maintaining that these things were so.
The word “plague” is a translation of the Greek word used to describe earthquakes and famine and epidemics. And the indictment was threefold: first, he was “a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world.” This was a wildly overblown political charge. But the real problem was that it classed him with all of the insurrectionists who continually stirred the Jews up to rebel against Rome. Tertullus knew that the one thing that Rome would not put up with was rebellion among their conquered people, because it could so easily build into an attack on Rome itself..
The second charge is in the next phrase in verse 5: “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”
This was a religious charge. It was similar to the first charge concerning stirring up the people, but the Nazarenes were a group who were constantly coming up with new “messiahs. “So that added to a religious fervor to the rebellions that they stirred up. The third charge is in verse 6. And it was that he had tried to profane the temple. The temple priests were all Sadducees, the party that was cooperative with Rome. So, to profane the temple was to go against the “Pro-Roman Tertullus probably hoped that this would cause the Roman governor to find against Paul. It is important to note that there was an element of truth in all of this – so in a twisted way all three of these charges could sound true to an uninformed bystander like Felix, the governor.
Think of the fear and anger Paul must have felt as he heard these lies – they could actually cost him his life! most of these Roman officials with their high-sounding titles actually knew very little about Jewish history or politics nor even the details of their official responsibilities. Most of the Roman leaders considered the Jews a bothersome group of hot headed trouble makers who had to be handled carefully and used the courts as a weapon.
So those are “the accusations against Paul” in verses 1 through 9. But in verses 10 through 21 we find the answers by Paul.
First notice the attitude with which Paul begins his defense in verse 10:
Then Paul, After the governor had nodded to him, to speak answered: inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.
Paul doesn’t have to use conniving flattery with Felix – he could truthfully say that he was glad to see that he was the one hearing the case because he knew that “in his many years” Felix would have seen the truth about the devious Jewish leaders. Besides that, he could be cheerful because the real judge was God Himself and Paul knew where he stood with him.
So out of that background Paul gives his answers to the charges in the next few verses. In verses 11 through 13 he says “I am not a trouble maker” and he cites three facts. “Because may easily ascertain that twelve days since I went to Jerusalem to worship (12) And they neither found me disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. (13)Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me.
In verse 11 he points out that he had not been in Jerusalem long enough to have done any of this. In verse 12 he points out that he had not been seen talking with anybody in the streets or in Jerusalem. And third, he points out in verse 13 that they had produced no witnesses.
One of the basic points of Jewish law is the distinction accusation and proof. And Paul’s intellect is demonstrated in the fact that he knew that distinction. Technically Paul could have rested his case here and won on legal grounds. But he didn’t want this “sect” concept of Christianity to slip by.
His second answer to the charges against him is in verses 14 through 18. And it is simply “I am not the leader a cult.”
Tertullus had referred to Christianity as a “sect” or “cult” and Paul couldn’t let that slip by. So in verses 14 through 16 he sets out to establish the legitimacy of Christianity as true religion.
But this I confess to you, that according the Way which they call a sect so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets. (15) “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust (16) This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
In these verses Paul presents four pieces of evidence about his faith that make it acceptable. First, he serves the same God as the Jews do – verse 14 (“I worship the God of my fathers”) Second, he believes the same Word of God that they do – verse 14 (“believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets”) Third, he, too, hopes in God for his future resurrection – verse 15. And fourth, concerning his lifestyle and beliefs, he has a completely clear conscience – verse 16.
The statement that was probably was most appealing to Felix in that list was the last one about having a clear conscience. His whole life was wrapped up in the deceit, treachery and betrayal that characterized politics – then and now – and he probably longed to be free of it. That same longing probably applied to his personal life as well. His present wife was his third one, and he had persuaded her to leave her husband and marry him when she was only sixteen. And besides all that she was also the daughter of Herod Agrippa I. who had executed James, the first martyr after the resurrection. It was her aunt and great uncle who had had John the Baptist beheaded because he kept preaching about their illicit relationship. So, no doubt this was a lady who had a lot of emotional problems, which had to have an effect on Felix.
In verse 17 Paul answers the third charge against him, that of desecrating the temple.
Now after “many years” I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation.
It was only after “many years” that he came back to Jerusalem – he was anything but a “plague.”
And when did come back it was to bring money that he had raised from Christians all over the world for famine relief in Jerusalem. Finally, in verses 18 through 21 he brings out two other important legal points: First, the accusers themselves were not present, only the high priest,
according to 18 and 19.
“in the midst of which” [having come to Jerusalem to bring the gift] some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult (19) They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me.
And second, the only reason for this trial is his statement about the resurrection, so it is a religious charge, not a civil one, so Felix shouldn’t even be hearing it in the first place and Paul should be freed, according to verses 20 and 21.
The last section of the chapter has to do with the arrangements that Felix made for Paul in verses 22 through 27. The background for the arrangements is in verse 22. But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias comes down, I will make a decision on your case.
Felix was in a sticky situation here: He knows Paul is innocent here, because he has “more accurate knowledge of the Way” than the Jews do. Incidentally, this demonstrates that it is to know “about” Jesus Christ – Felix knew all about him, but had not trusted him. But at the same time he knows he has to appease these powerful Jews who were before him. So, he does what any man pleaser pressure would do; he procrastinates. Look at verses 23 through 25
So, he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. (24) And after some days when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning faith in Christ. (25) Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
One of the beauties of this is that it was a light sentence compared to what Felix had the power to give. Another beauty is that he allowed him to see friends. But the real beauty of this situation is that it allowed Felix more opportunity to hear the gospel again. Paul’s subject was “righteousness and the judgement to come.” An honest consideration of these subjects would sober anyone. But notice Felix’s decision. So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. (24) And after some days when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning faith in Christ. (25) Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and answered, Felix said “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”
This shows the true nature of acceptance of Christ – it is not just an emotional exercise. But it also points out the danger of putting off such a decision: there is no record that Felix ever trusted Christ (although he could have without it being recorded.)